An Amazing Spanish-American Wedding in the Canary Islands
Two cultures, religions, and languages were merged to create one modernly rustic celebration.
Tamara and Brett
Tamara McCarthy and Brett Nidel knew they would eventually get married within a week of meeting. Tamara was born in Dublin, grew up on Spain’s Canary Islands, and came to New York City for a semester during college to study design. She rented an apartment down the street from friends of Brett, a born-and-raised New Yorker. The two met by chance one night; however, the pair didn’t reconnect until a few years later when Tamara graduated from college in Ireland and officially moved to NYC. Brett’s friends put them in touch again, and, as the saying goes, the rest is history. “Honestly, after Tamara got an apartment that she stayed in for a total of about one week, we moved in with each other—no more than four weeks after!” says Brett.
A year and a half later, right before Tamara’s mom was coming to visit, Brett planned to propose. He took great measures when it came to Tamara’s engagement ring: he stole a different band from her closet to get the piece sized correctly and he even turned off the locater app on his iPhone whenever he went to the jeweler. However, despite his sneaky tactics, the surprise proposal almost fell apart—twice! First, after Brett asked Tamara’s mom permission to pop the question, she accidentally emailed her daughter to express excitement about the plan. Brett reacted quickly and told Tamara not to look at the email because it gave details of a (nonexistent) surprise birthday party planned for her during an upcoming vacation to the Canary Islands. The second close call came after Brett told his father and stepmom about the proposal. When Tamara walked in the room afterwards, Brett’s father was so excited that he slipped and said, “Well I guess congratulations are due…” Brett improvised something like, “That her mom is coming to visit?” and avoided spoiling the surprise once more.
In the end, everything played out smoothly. “I was shaking with nerves but it was the happiest moment of my life. She said yes!” says Brett.
He and Tamara journeyed to the bride’s childhood home of Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, for a destination wedding on September 13, 2014. About 120 guests from all over the world attended the rustic and modern ceremony, which had a color palette of charcoal, kraft brown, and gold. The big day joined two cultures, two languages, and two religions—and not to mention two people—together in a very memorable way.
Since Tamara holds her childhood home of Gran Canaria close to her heart, the New York City-based couple chose to get married on the Spanish island. The ceremony and reception took place at Finca Condal Vega Grande, a restored manor house that embodies the traditional architecture of the location. Although the Canary Islands was a long plane ride for the couple’s American guests, other invitees didn’t have to travel far: 40 hailed from Spain and the rest came from Ireland and other nearby countries.
The Stationery Suite
Tamara, a graphic designer, created the stationery and the couple’s “13” logo—the number signified the wedding date of September 13 and also represents good luck in Brett’s Jewish faith. El Calotipo screen-printed and letterpressed Tamara’s design onto each piece of stationery. The suite also introduced a feather motif that appeared throughout the wedding to symbolize the fauna on Gran Canaria.
The Welcome Bags
Guests received welcome bags filled with Canarian water and Tropical beer, pumpkin bread baked by Brett’s mom, a map of the island, a book of things to do, a first aid kit, a postcard, a notebook, and wooden pencils. Tamara designed the bag with tiny “B & T” symbols, and then the Pedal Pushers Club (owned by Brett’s stepbrother) printed the pattern on the totes.
Did Tamara try on a lot of gowns? “I think that’s an understatement!” she says. “I tried on every gown in the city.” As a real estate broker, Brett had recently helped designer Karen Willis Holmes set up her first bridal boutique stateside, and Karen helped Tamara finally land the dress of her dreams. “I was her first U.S. bride, and meeting her was just meant to be,” says Tamara. During her dress hunt, the bride-to-be avoided all strapless and poofy numbers. However, when she realized that the style of gown she sought didn’t suit her body type, she ended up with none other than a strapless, poofy dress. Tamara completed her look with strappy sandals by Manolo Blahnik (a fellow Canarian), a veil by Karen Willis Holmes, and her custom Shine Jewelers engagement ring.
The First Look
In order to maximize time with their guests, Tamara and Brett decided to have a first look and take portraits before the ceremony. The couple spent a few heartfelt moments together, and then photographer Pablo Beglez whisked them away in a small car and drove five minutes down the coast on a bumpy road. “He hadn’t told us this little plan, but he had scouted an incredible landscape, which is really representative of the island, to take pictures in,” says Tamara. “These are some of our favorite photos of the two of us.”
Tamara and Brett chose the style and size of ketubah they liked and sent Danny Azoulay the inspiration so he could craft an egalitarian wedding contract with a modern, cut paper design. Close friends of the couple, Almudena and Darren, signed the ketubah while the officiant explained the Jewish tradition to the wedding party.
The bride and groom made programs in both English and Spanish so that all guests could follow the wedding. The feather design was foil-stamped onto the cover of the booklet, which was then tied together with thread.
Wooden signs placed throughout the venue pointed to the direction of various wedding events, and also to the countries where guests live. Tamara’s friend and a bridesmaid’s father built the signs, and then Tamara wrote on them with paint markers and acrylics.
Since Tamara’s father is no longer with her, the bride’s mom walked her down the aisle to Ray Charles’ “Georgia on my Mind” performed on the flute by Brett’s stepmother, who is a member of the New York Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Brett’s parents escorted him to the altar while a South American folk tune played in the background, which Tamara says suited the atmosphere and venue perfectly.
Eliezer from Edelweiss made the bridal bouquet, which included lots of greenery and simple white blooms like hibiscus and lily of the valley. Tamara had three bridesmaids: her sister Lara, who was five months pregnant at the time, and her two childhood friends, Sara and Almudena. Brett chose his two brothers, Sam and Danny, and two childhood friends, Matt and Darren, as his groomsmen.
The 6:30 p.m. ceremony took place under a chuppah built from cane wood. The structure couldn’t stand on its own due to windy weather, so the groomsmen came to the rescue and held up its four posts.
Officiant Lynn Levy, Brett’s godmother, mixed the couple’s cultures, languages, and religions to create a personalized and unique ceremony. The bride and groom lit candles, which is normally done in a Catholic mass, but added a Jewish twist of using them to honor those that couldn’t be there, including Brett’s close childhood friend, grandparents, and Tamara’s father. The couple also incorporated the seven blessings rather than traditional Bible readings. At the end of the ceremony, Brett participated in the Jewish wedding ritual of breaking the glass.
A Loving Laugh
During the service, Brett’s godmother told some funny stories from when Brett was younger, and she also touched on how the couple first connected. “Before the ceremony, during it, and right through the night, we were all laughs,” says Brett.
Yarmulkes symbolized Brett’s Jewish faith, and the couple invited guests of all genders and religions to wear one of the head coverings during the service. “We loved seeing Tamara’s Spanish, Catholic uncles joining in the tradition and embracing two cultures and religions coming together!” says the pair.
As Tamara and Brett recessed up the aisle, guests showered them with white confetti.
In order to get to cocktail hour on the terrace, guests walked through the old kitchen of the manor house and down a balcony built in traditional Canarian style. To keep the emphasis on the architectural elements of the area, the couple opted to decorate simply with natural flora and wooden spools used as tables. Guests ate regional foods like quail egg, smoked salmon toast, gazpacho, Serrano ham, and mini rabbit chops.
A Spanish guitar player serenaded the guests as they mingled.
Leading the Way
An old barn door in the terrace opens to a pathway that leads to the manor house’s chapel. A traditional Spanish band called “tunos”—made up of young college students from around Spain—led guests down this path to the dinner party as they played, and everyone danced and laughed along.
The Seating Chart
Bridesmaid Almudena’s father made the seating chart by placing a piece of glass in a window frame, and then Tamara wrote every guest’s name with a white paint marker. The chart stood on an easel at the entrance of the dinner terrace.
The Table Numbers
In order to use flags as table numbers, Tamara sewed a number onto each one and then wrote out the number in Spanish.
To keep the long communal tables simple and natural, the newlyweds decorated with light brown jute cloths and lots of greenery. Gray pashminas were tied to the back of each chair in case the night got chilly. Tamara and Brett say that having long tables at their reception created a collective atmosphere. “Even those who didn’t know each other became friends, and by the end of the night, everyone was like family!” says the bride and groom.
White candles in sleek glass bottles were placed along the spread as centerpieces. The tables were also topped with vases full of eucalyptus, rosemary, visnea, jasmine, and hibiscus.
The Place Settings
Gold chargers and napkins wrapped with nautical rope and threaded gold string tied into the day’s palette. Coloring books, crayons, and toys were given to the littlest guests.
A Canarian Dinner
As a shout-out to their wedding destination, Tamara and Brett served Canarian food made by Gamonal. On the menu was cheese salad with berry vinaigrette, herbed steak with vegetables, grilled cherne (white fish) with grilled potatoes and vegetables, and white chocolate mouse with passion fruit. Later in the night, churros with chocolate provided a pick-me-up for hungry dancers. Guests also enjoyed a vanilla wedding cake baked by a family friend.
Tamara credits the dinner as the most memorable moment of the day. “I looked up and saw a mix of people that have touched my life in different stages all coming together—people from my childhood in Spain, my college life in Ireland, and my new life in the USA,” she says.
The Dessert Table
Brett’s mom, Arlene, baked everything on the dessert table.
Several guests gave toasts to the couple, including Brett’s younger brother and best man Sam, bridesmaid Almudena, Tamara’s mom, and Brett’s parents. Tamara’s friend from Ireland, Aoife, started a betting pool among guests regarding how long the best man’s speech would last. “Whoever bet the over won by a long shot!” says Tamara.
The First Dance
Tamara and Brett danced to “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong. “Dancing outside in the beautiful weather under those lights to that gorgeous song, and feeling so in love, was a dream,” says the bride, who added that the song was a favorite of her father’s.
Toward the end of the evening, the wedding party grabbed some chairs and hoisted the bride and groom up for the hora. Guests danced to jazz and world music well into the night, with some partying until 5 a.m. “The late bus was pretty lively. Some English-versus-Spanish song wars broke out, and some people even went to the clubs afterward!” says Tamara.